Genes May Be Key to Long, Dementia-Free Life

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"This study provides one more piece of evidence that 'the cure' may be staring at us from the faces of these survivors, if we could only make out specifically what it was," says Richard Caselli, professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz. "It also gives us further reason to be optimistic that a cure is not impossible... nature seems to have already found a way."

However, until this genetic link can be established conclusively, doctors say there are still cues that everyone can take from people like Ralph Light.

"Mr. Light's family likely has a good genetic profile plus a lifetime of physical activity and is not overweight or a smoker. And he is engaged in life," says Dr. John Messmer, an associate professor of family and community medicine at Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey, Pa., in an email.

"All the research being done on dementia may one day help us to understand it better, but for now, there are basic recommendations to reduce one's risk: do not use tobacco, maintain a strictly normal weight (BMI under 25), exercise regularly, eat a diet high in vegetables and fruits, stay engaged in the community."

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